Life in Paris is becoming surprisingly natural after two and half weeks here. There are a lot of subtle differences that R and I have had to adapt ourselves to, but most have slipped into our lives so quietly that we didn’t even notice ourselves changing.
I’ve gotten over my initial shocked outrage that Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke) costs more at a restaurant than regular coke. If you don’t want to pay two euro for it, you have to buy your own litre at a Franprix anyway. We’ve accepted the fact that you can’t find skim milk here – it’s crème, half and half or whole milk. After a day of silent milk boycott, we caved, and we dine on incredibly rich cereal every morning. I no longer feel like such a bumbling fool on the metro, and R and I have caved to the peer pressure of cheating two to a ticket every trip (that’s just what you do here).
We’ve had our mishaps in the ongoing process of adaptation. One day (before we had our yearlong metro cards) we’d both snuck into a station on my ticket. Now most who cheat the system are used to the process and are smart enough to keep an extra stash of stamped tickets in their purses and pockets. R and I were still learning at this point, and when we could only provide one ticket to the RATP police doing spot checks at the station, we owed a sudden debt of 30 euro for our misstep. Of course, this just made us bitter and feel like we needed to make up that 30 with a lot more cheating – with used tickets in our pockets, of course.
We’ve learned that if you want a good inexpensive wine, don’t even bother trying to pick one yourself – there is so much wine in France that you could probably go 100 bottles of vinegar before finding a decent one. It’s always, always safer to ask an employee of the epicerie to recommend one they like, and once you find a tasty wine, stick with it! It’s also important to remember to request glasses with your bottle of wine. Despite the fact that everyone drinks outside in public here, it is never cool to swig wine from the bottle. If you do, you’re practically screaming out your U.S. citizenship. If you have water bottles on hand, it is possible to make do with those (as we were forced to the night we forgot glasses), but you will look like a fool.
There are so many other tiny details that R and I absorb each day – the fact that baguettes are 80 cents no matter where you are (the price is regulated by the government). The fact that everywhere, in restaurants, stores, even in the Laundromat, even with complete strangers, you greet everyone with a bonjour or bonsoir. It’s the acknowledgment that’s important.
At meals, you put your bread on the table next to your plate, never on it, and your napkin stays on the table (not in your lap) at all times. The fact that French tap water is delicious, but nobody drinks it – if you don’t want to buy water bottles everywhere you go, make sure you fill up an Evian bottle in the safety of your home, so nobody knows where your water came from. If you don’t want to gag, do not ever drink Vittel water, and make sure you specify that you want “une carafe de l’eau,” rather than just saying “l’eau,” or you’ll end up with a bottle of odd-tasting mineral water that you have to pay for.
Bathrooms are always in restaurant basements. If you want to sit down with your baguette sandwich, make sure you say so – if you pay the à emporter (take away) price, you are not allowed to sit down with the patrons who paid the extra euro to do so. It’s always safer to buy sandwiches, etc. from a boulangerie where the bread is made fresh, than from a stand that buys its baguettes from another party. If you want a good crépe, stay away from the touristy centers of the city – head instead to St. Michel or the square near Les Halles where they’ll be both fresher and cheaper. If people with pamphlets approach you asking if you speak English, say “Non!”
These are the things you get used to in any new environment – I probably don’t even realize most of the changes I’m making. Here’s one more – if you want to relieve all of your stress, find an au pair job with a great family and live in your own studio apartment in their building rent-free. More on that to come.